Celebrating fairer sex


Ever had the urge to attend a burlesque workshop on striptease or learn the history of the beehive hairdo? Maybe not, but only for lack of opportunity.

The 25th annual Maryland Arts Festival offers these and other cultural events for the next month.

The festival, taking place in Towson University's newly renovated Center for the Arts tomorrow through July 23, covers theater, opera, concerts and art exhibitions centered on "A Celebration of Women." This year it also features professor-led pre-performance workshops and lectures.

"It occurred to me we should take advantage of the university's staff," said the festival's executive director, David Bielenberg. "I wanted to tie in the humanities departments and have some fun."

This year's festival is also the first to have a theme.

"The festival has felt scattered in the past, so we wanted to create unity," said Bielenberg, who came on board as director in January. Bielenberg said he expects more themes in future years.

The festival returns to Towson's Center for the Arts after a three-year renovation. Gutted and redone, the center now contains three theaters, three art galleries and three concert halls for music and dance.

Starting tomorrow night, take a nostalgic dip into the 1960s with Beehive: The '60s Musical and listen to 40 songs that such favorites as Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin made famous. You might have gotten a sneak peek if you were at Baltimore's Honfest on June 10, where the Beehive ladies performed a few numbers. The show runs through July 16, and three shows feature pre-performance discussions of women's roles in 1960s music, how the Vietnam War affected popular music and the ever-popular beehive hairdo's history and Baltimore connection.

The musical theme continues with Gypsy, the Broadway play based on the memoirs of burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee. The play tells of Lee's path to stardom and her pushy Mama Rose, who lives out her own dreams through her daughters.

"The message is be careful not to live your life through your children, because generally it will blow up in your face," said Gypsy's director and choreographer Todd Pearthree.

Pearthree brings an atypical stage design and a more obsessed Mama Rose to this production.

"Gypsy originally opened in 1959, so it's written in old-fashioned theater style. It's been called the 'Lady Macbeth of musicals,'" Pearthree said. "Rather than the same old thing, this production will be re-conceptualized, set in what looks like a theater's backstage. I want to uncover a darker side."

Associated with the production are a Burlesque Boot Camp workshop on striptease and a discussion on American musical theater in the 1950s.

Next up is Air Heart, which rolls theater, gymnastics and history into one and runs July 21-23. Aerialist Mara Neimanis simulates flight using a 12-foot metal spinning plane sculpture and explores the life of pilot Amelia Earhart.

"It's about women, courage, flight and just taking risks," Neimanis said.

For music fans, the festival's Opera on Film Series returns after a seven-year absence because of lack of space, according to festival spokeswoman Sedonia Martin. Hosts from the Baltimore Opera Company and 91.5 FM-WBJC's Operafest will lead discussions on the operas Turandot, Elektra and Don Giovanni, followed by presentations of film versions of the operas.

Find more music at the Sundays at 3 p.m. Concert Series, which includes a two-piano program called Piano: Music for Four Hand Piano that offers pieces by Mozart and Gershwin; A Woman is a Sondheim Thing, with selections from composer Stephen Sondheim's musicals; and a big-band revival in The Girl Singers: Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day & Peggy Lee.

The festival's art exhibits feature contemporary women's photography, works from Towson University's Master of Fine Arts program and highlights from the Asian Arts Gallery.


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